Assume Users Will Invest Zero Seconds

controlled_wideI keep running into the discussion of whether there will eventually be a 3D printer in every home. Though no one obviously knows the answer (it may even be the wrong question to be asking), it’s still interesting to think through things like co-creation, distributed manufacturing and empowering end-users. But it does strike me how the discussion tends to overemphasize the technological progress, and underestimate a couple of basic elements of user experience:

  1. A user’s decision-making is situational
  2. A user will spend infinitely close to ZERO time on any given task


A user’s decision-making is situational

The 3D printing discussion goes something like this. In the future, everyone will have a 3D printer in their home so they can print out replacements for whatever gizmos they might need. That is a “wow” scenario because it is different from what we’re doing now. The advantages are that the you simply go punch a button and more or less instantly have your new gizmo. This is contrasted to going to a store to get the new thing, or to ordering it online.

There can be many rational reasons for a user to use a given product, in this case a 3D printer. It may save them time, it may mean more money in the future etc. Unfortunately that perfect logic is not how users ultimately decide to use a product, context trumps logic. That decision is split into many individual small choices spread out over time and taken in different contexts. Making them distinctly different choices. For example, the gizmo printing that seems like a great idea when you’re at the 3D printer display in the shop, may be a very different story when you actually need the gizmo.

A user will spend infinitely close to ZERO time on any given task

If we remove any fascination with the technology itself (since an end-user needing a specific problem solved won’t care what technology is used to solve the problem) we’re left with a user’s need and a choice between printing at home or ordering online. And that decision comes down to perceived mental effort. Laziness basically. If I can order the gizmo and have it delivered within the hour with a voice command and a click (which is pretty much what the recent express shopping services offer) maybe that takes least effort, even if a bit slower and less wow’y.

Yes the technology will absolutely get better, people will change their behavior in ways no one can predict, things will be printed in places we couldn’t imagine. But when evaluating what those changes will be, consider the micro decisions a user will be making.

If you get someone to use your product once, you have something working. In order to be a business, you need users to make that choice every time your product is the potential solution. If that is not the case then you have a novelty product.


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